A prominent theme at the CBA’s 2010 Rule of Law Conference was the impact that Connecticut’s regulatory structure has on business in the State. Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen graciously agreed to an interview with the Rule of Law Blog to discuss this and other themes relevant to the Rule of Law. Please enjoy the Rule of Law Blog’s interview with Attorney General Jepsen.
What is the Rule of Law?
The rule of law is the fair and impartial application and enforcement of the statutes, legal opinions and regulations that govern the conduct of individuals and corporate entities for the protection of society and public health and safety.
A common theme at the CBA’s Rule of Law Conference was the impact that regulations and administrative agencies have on the business community. In your estimation, are regulations and the administrative agencies helping or hurting businesses?
Compliance with the law is a necessary cost of doing business; as long as regulations are applied fairly and uniformly, no business should be unduly burdened. Administrative agencies and the regulations they enforce are meant to ensure that businesses are registered; have the necessary training, licenses, permits, and insurance to do the job correctly; and that their workers are protected. It would be naïve, however, to suggest that all regulations are created equal or that agencies always exercise their authority reasonably.
As Attorney General, I recognize that government leaders should at times reassess whether a particular law or regulation serves its intended purpose and whether a government agency is appropriately exercising its authority. Only then will any regulatory scheme inspire public trust and confidence.
One of my responsibilities as Attorney General is to represent state administrative agencies. That responsibility carries enormous power and the opportunity to bring about positive change. But with that power is a corollary responsibility to exercise the broad discretion of the office in a fair, wise and just manner. The key word here is “discretion.” Bringing the wrong case could destroy the life of an innocent person or ruin an honest business.
To minimize the risk, I try to hear all sides of an issue before moving forward, and not to announce anything publicly before I am confident I have the facts right. To further protect the reputation of those who have had issues before my office, I have not hesitated to close files and, when appropriate, inform the public that a matter has been closed.
What role should regulations play in our society?
Federal and state laws define the rules of society. Regulations help to interpret those rules and provide practical application to daily life. In an ideal world, everyone would be accountable for their own actions and regulations would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. We have seen all too well what happens in a largely unregulated marketplace – the bank bailouts and mortgage foreclosure crisis. However, too much regulation, outdated regulations, or the unfair application of regulations stifles creativity, opportunity and growth. So we need a thoughtful, balanced approach. Government leaders must encourage a respectful debate about the need for certain regulations and, when appropriate, seek changes to a regulatory scheme. As Attorney General, my job is to ensure a level playing field for all companies operating in Connecticut, while at the same time protecting consumers from unfair or illegal practices by businesses. I will not shy away from a robust debate about how best to strike that balance.
Is Connecticut a business friendly state?
I would say yes, but there is room for improvement. The state business tax climate ranks among the lowest in the nation according to a recent national survey. The state offers an educated, skilled workforce, good schools and exceptional quality of life. Governor Malloy has recently offered a number of tax and other incentives to encourage certain companies to relocate or do business here.
As Attorney General, I have made every attempt in my first eight months in office to engage in a dialogue with businesses to better understand their concerns and how my office can address those concerns without compromising its mission to protect the citizens of Connecticut from any unfair or illegal practices.
What role do those outside of government and the legal profession have in shaping the Rule of Law?
Every citizen in a democracy is responsible for their government. They have a responsibility to educate themselves, identify problems or issues, make their voices heard and work toward solutions by voting or participating in decision-making. The Internet and use of social media make it easier than ever for individuals to make their views known to elected representatives and government leaders. Citizens are the pulse of the body politic, a vital sign of a healthy democracy.
A knowledgeable and active electorate is one of the important checks and balances on elected government and the rule of law. While public participation is vital for government to function well, it does take time, a precious commodity for individuals trying to get ahead and working families struggling to do more with less. Community and public interest organizations can help individuals participate, and also focus attention on their most important issues.
Based on my experience, government does and will continue to respond. In America, we enjoy what few countries have: respect for the rule of law where justice is not for sale. It is for this reason that I, as Attorney General, take very, very seriously the business of making government work right. There is no greater responsibility than preserving and enhancing public confidence that the laws of Connecticut are being enforced effectively, efficiently and most of all, fairly.
How can government and the business community work together to strengthen the Rule of Law?
Government and the business community can work together to strengthen the Rule of Law by operating honestly, openly and in good faith. We need a working relationship based on mutual respect and understanding, one which promotes cooperation rather than confrontation. We may disagree, but disagreements should not prevent working toward a solution.
As I exercise discretion as Attorney General in deciding which cases to pursue and in what manner, I am cognizant that not all mistakes and transgressions are created equal. To me, there is a world of difference between an honest mistake, an act of negligence, and intentional wrongdoing. Proportionality needs to be reflected in the manner my office pursues a matter.
While sometimes there may be no other choice but to go to court, I do not believe that litigation is the only answer or always the right answer. There is not always a clear right and wrong. Issues and controversies are nuanced, shades of gray, rather than black and white. My preferred approach is to get the parties to a dispute around a table and work for a solution that reflects the interests at stake in all of their complexity, treating the dispute as a problem to be solved, rather than a reason to be confrontational.